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AT THIS HOUR
Trump Holds Cabinet Meeting Amid Russia Firestorms; Will Sessions Testify Publicly? Senate Committee Debating; Sessions Asks For Public Hearing Tomorrow; Trump Defenders Attack Mueller As Special Counsel; Sessions To Testify Publicly Before Senate Intel Tomorrow; Why Is Trump Turning The "Tapes" Into A Game Show?; Trump Lawyer Won't Rule Out Firing Special Counsel. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired June 12, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: -- little James Brown for you there, Poppy, this morning. It's going to be a big game. That game tonight is in Oakland at 9:00 Eastern.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: There you go. Coy Wire, thank you, my friend. We'll see you tomorrow. Thank you all for joining us. I'm Poppy Harlow. "AT THIS HOUR with Kate Bolduan" begins right now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Poppy. Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.
Happening right now, President Trump sitting down with his cabinet. Trump is leading the meeting, but all eyes will be on one cabinet member in particular, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
His first visit to the White House since reports that his relationship with the president is on the rocks and the first since Sessions has volunteered now to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer questions about the Russia investigation and response to what James Comey offered up in his testimony.
So that could happen tomorrow, but stand by, it is more complicated than that. But forget James Comey apparently, allies of the president are now lining and starting to target the special prosecutor overseeing the probe, Robert Mueller. What are they trying to do here?
Well, let's get to it. Suzanne Malveaux is live right now on Capitol Hill, but first, let's get over to CNN's Jason Carroll. He is at the White House. So Jason, what are we expecting to come out of this first cabinet meeting? What are you expecting here?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, there are a lot of questions here. A lot of questions, Kate, about exactly how that sort of optics, sort of visual having the president there in the same room with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, especially since Sessions just not too long ago was unclear if this White House even had confidence in the attorney general and after the attorney general reportedly offered his resignation. What you have to ask yourself at this point is, Kate, does this
White House at this point still have confidence in Jeff Sessions, and it's really a tough question. I mean, I think really when you look at it, you also have to ask yourself, do they also have confidence in Rod Rosenstein?
I mean, this is the same man who you'll remember appointed this special counsel. So, clearly, if Sessions were to resign at one point, you would then have that man in that position. Unclear at this point if that's what the White House really wants.
You'll also have to remember, Sessions, though, his relationship with the president may have soured, but you also have to remember, he still has supporters here in the west wing. You look at people like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, who are definitely still, at least still as far as we know still in Sessions' court.
So, he still has some support here in the west wing, but the optics of the meeting of those two men at that cabinet meeting is going to be something to behold -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Something to behold. Let's see what he hear coming out of that. Great to see you, Jason. Thank you so much.
So now to a big decision that just suddenly fell into the Senate's lap. Will he or won't he? Whether they will allow the attorney general to testify behind closed doors, or will they require and demand that it be before cameras and the public?
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is joining me from Capitol Hill with much more on this. Suzanne, word is that Sessions caught folks off guard with his offer to testify, so what exactly do we know about this?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He did, Kate. And you would think that, of course, they want to see him before the committee. It would be a no-brainer, right? But there is a lot of debate that's taking place behind the scenes.
The reason why here is that the head of the committee, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, he believes that, yes, this is a good idea, but the debate that they're having, the Democrat on this committee, Mark Warner, believes that this could be a strategy by Sessions to avoid a public hearing, to go ahead before this committee.
He offered it in this letter on Saturday, but to do it quietly behind the scenes, and they believe that he needs to have this kind of public hearing to be held accountable. So, that is the debate that's taking place.
They are getting some advice, if you will, from the special counsel. Bob Mueller's going to be meeting with him through the week. There are going to be discussions, ongoing discussions, about what is the most appropriate way to have him go before this committee, if it is this committee at all, and in what forum.
The other thing, Kate, that's happening is that the Senate Judiciary Committee, also investigating the Russia probe here, they are trying to create a sense of urgency in getting their hands on those Comey memos from Comey's friend, Law Professor Daniel Richmond, who Comey was handing over his notes to during the time.
Richmond slipping it to the media and exposing the kinds of conversations he was having with President Trump at the time. They gave him a Friday deadline, and CNN has learned that, yes, he is cooperating with that particular committee.
There should be some movement on that sometime today to see whether or not they actually physically get those memos, copies of those memos, in what form they would get that. But that is something they, too, want in earnest.
So there's a lot, Kate, that is going on here on Capitol Hill, and clearly, they are trying to create this sense of urgency in getting this information in their hands.
[11:05:06]BOLDUAN: I think there's urgency all around, we could say. Great to see you, Suzanne. Thank you so much.
MALVEAUX: Great to see you.
BOLDUAN: I actually want to bring in right now CNN's political director, David Chalian. David, I'm going to look down for just one second because we are getting news in about Jeff Sessions and the possibility and schedule of him testifying.
I'm going to read this as we're all getting it. Laura Jarrett sent this in from a Justice Department spokesman saying that "Attorney General Sessions has requested a public Senate Intelligence hearing for tomorrow."
And here's a quote from a spokesman for DOJ -- "He believes it is important for the American people to hear the truth directly from him and looks forward to answering the committee's questions tomorrow." This is a fascinating chain of events, David.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is. Clearly, I think Sessions was aware that if he was going to cancel his publicly scheduled testimony, remember, before the Appropriations Committees about the DOJ budget, which is what he was supposed to be doing this week.
CHALIAN: And then say I want to testify before Senate Intel, if he was then to go behind closed doors, he would have caught a lot of flak for that, obviously, as would have his Republican colleagues on Senate Intel, if they allowed that. We'll see. We still have to hear, of course, from the Senate Intel chair and vice chair.
BOLDUAN: That's right. CHALIAN: But hearing from the attorney general that he would like it to be public, I think it would be surprising if Senator Burr and Senator Warner did not certainly agree to that and make that happen here. This is now -- welcome to the hot seat in Washington, right?
BOLDUAN: Yes, I guess so.
CHALIAN: This is the seat that Jim Comey was before last week. He was sitting in this before the Senate Intel Committee, and now if Jeff Sessions is there publicly. Kate, I think there are three different big questions that Jeff Sessions would have to answer in this.
One, Jim Comey said that when the president cleared the oval office on February 14th, that you were lingering behind, as if you didn't want to leave. Well, what was going through your mind, AG Sessions?
Did you not think it appropriate for the president to be in a one-on-one meeting with the FBI director? Were you concerned that he was going to bring up the Flynn investigation? What was going through your mind there? That's one.
Two, you saw Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, yesterday bring up this notion of why are you writing a memo to the president recommending Comey's firing, that the president has said Russia was on his mind when making that firing, if you recused yourself?
So did your recusal -- why did that not cause you to recuse yourself from actually the firing of the FBI director over this issue? And three, was there a third meeting you had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.?
CHALIAN: Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel? Was there a side meeting? Because initially, Jeff Sessions, you'll recall, disclosed no meetings with the Russian ambassador, then disclosed two, and this is what caused him to recuse himself from the whole Russia investigation.
He had to update his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing, saying I did actually meet with the Russian ambassador. And now there's this question about whether or not there was a third meeting. So, lots of questions for Jeff Sessions to answer.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And you lay it out perfectly, the big ones that he will most definitely be getting, if this all happens. As you say, very important to note, yet to hear from the chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, if they're ready to schedule this hearing.
There's a lot of preparation that goes into these hearings before they have a big witness like this, and this came very fast and caught a lot of folks off guard. Interesting to see if they'll try to delay or if they will move ahead with something of a public hearing tomorrow. Stand by for that.
Let me ask you another big thing that's going on today, David. You're getting it all. Apologies, my friend.
CHALIAN: No problem.
BOLDUAN: We're seeing more of the president's supporters going after Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, people like Newt Gingrich. Gingrich sent out a tweet this morning and it kind of took off like wildfire, when he wrote this -- "Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring. Check FEC reports. Time to rethink."
Add to that, here's what the president's -- one of the president's lawyers said yesterday when he was asked about the potential of Mueller being fired by the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the president promise not to interfere, not attempt at any time to order the deputy attorney general to fire Robert Mueller?
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: Look, the president of the united states, as we all know, it's a unitary executive, but the president is going to seek the advice of his counsel, and inside the government as well as outside, and I'm not going to speculate on what he will or will not do. I can't imagine that that issue's going to arise, but that, again, is an issue that the president with his advisers would discuss, if there was a basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: So, you have that from Jay Sekulow, but also on the Newt Gingrich bit, David, this is the same Newt Gingrich who tweeted in May that he liked the Mueller announcement, saying it was a superb choice. What gives here? What's changed?
CHALIAN: Well, you know, he clearly thought when Mueller got appointed that that would be sort of an alleviator of pressure for the White House, saying, OK, now everybody can calm down because this is in the hands of a special counsel, and let that process go forward.
[11:10:06]Now, after seeing reporting about the team that Mueller's put together, I think Gingrich is now trying to discredit not just Mueller, or not so much going after Mueller, but after the entire investigative effort that the special counsel's put together.
Here's the problem, Kate, I think it's going to be very hard to make this kind of strategy work, and perhaps that's why we're not hearing it from Republicans on the Hill, but it's more sort of these Trump surrogates and fans outside right now. And that's because even Ken Starr this morning, Kate --
BOLDUAN: Right. CHALIAN: -- was saying Bob Mueller is unimpeachable, amazing credentials. He was praising the entire legal team Bob Mueller has put together. I just think it's going to be a tough sell for somebody with the sterling credentials Mueller has, if Republicans will try to discredit him as part of the political portion of this campaign.
BOLDUAN: And even if it comes from the outside, David, what kind of position would that put Republicans in, as example after example, tweet, sound bite, issued statement of them calling his credentials impeachable, impeccable, that he is a straight shooter, and you know, a fair guy? It would put Republicans, Republican lawmakers in a tough spot.
CHALIAN: In a very tough spot. And as would, obviously, which is what Sekulow was responding to in that bite you played, this notion of if Donald Trump somehow directed --
CHALIAN: -- the firing of the special counsel, you could imagine that would just create such a firestorm. Now, Sekulow said he doesn't expect that situation to arise, but he did not rule it out, because as you know, the special counsel is still, though independent, in the chain of command. The president does certainly have that ability. It's within his right. It just would be political suicide.
BOLDUAN: All right. You're the best, David! Stand by. Thank you so much.
CHALIAN: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: I do want to bring in -- we've got more to discuss with this breaking news that Jeff Sessions has requested a public hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee. We have now learned that Jeff Sessions -- hold on, let me make sure I pull this up correctly, because it's just coming in, and I want to make sure I get it.
We are getting this from the Senate Intelligence Committee now, saying that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify at the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow. That is news.
So, we've now heard it from Jeff Sessions says he wanted it to be public, and we are getting this in from the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that they will have that hearing for him tomorrow.
On this, let me bring in right now former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean. John, what's your reaction to this news, that this new addition -- I mean, it was going to be all eyes were on James Comey last week, and now it seems all eyes are on Jeff Sessions.
And this breaking news right now that Jeff Sessions will be testifying in a public setting tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer all of these questions.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think it's going to be a tough setting, but it's a friendly setting. Sessions has a lot of friends on the Hill. He was a very popular senator, worked quietly behind closed doors with his colleagues and got along well with them.
So, I think it will be friendly, but I think it's important also that he get this behind him sooner rather than later, given his strained relationship with the White House, and a big factor that no one's talking about is there are about 200 un-appointed presidential posts in the Department of Justice that are vacant right now.
And the pool of lawyers is small to start with for these kinds of jobs and they don't like these jobs when they're in the spotlight. So, it's important Sessions get these hearings behind him and get the department working.
BOLDUAN: What do you think? I mean, one of the big questions, of course, John, is going to be that February 14th meeting when -- that James Comey described in such detail about the grandfather clock and the president asking Jeff Sessions to leave, Jeff Sessions lingering, him telling him to leave, Jared Kushner lingering, the president telling him to leave. I'm sure he's going to ask for his detail-by- detail, play-by-play of exactly what his view of that meeting was.
DEAN: I think you're absolutely right. He's obviously heard Comey's testimony. He will have his recollection of it. I think the more interesting answer will be what motivated him to leave his FBI director there alone when the FBI director asked him not to do that.
Didn't he want to raise it with the president that it might not be appropriate to meet with this man? Do you want to give this a second thought? And he's also one of the president's lawyers. He's by tradition the president's lawyer. So, we'll all be anxious to hear what he has to say about this.
BOLDUAN: Let me also ask you about one other thing that's kind of lingering out there when you talk about a lot of questions right now. It comes down to the tapes, John. I know I've asked you this a couple times before, but for our viewers I think it's also kind of important to remind exactly where things were left.
[11:15:04]With the question of are there tapes of conversations that occurred in the oval office or not? Here's a reminder of what the president said just on Friday. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you seem to be hinting that there are recordings of those conversations --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm not hinting anything. I'll tell you about it over a very short period of time, OK? OK. Do you have a question here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When will you tell us about the recordings?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Over a fairly short period of time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why won't you tell us now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are there tapes, sir?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Oh, you're going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer. Don't worry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: The more he drags this along, do you think it is more likely there are tapes, John, or more likely there are not?
DEAN: I think more likely there are not. I think his telephone system has the capability of recording by hitting a switch, where the voice mail can become a recording for the conversation. As to the oval office and where they had dinner, the small dining room they ate in, he'd have to have used something like his cell phone to make that recording.
I've read that he has done that in the past in business meetings, so maybe it's a very poor quality, where he tried to do it and it didn't work very well. So, who knows? And I don't understand his answer that you will know in a very short period of time. I mean, it's just odd.
It's a little bit of playing reality president. Let us drag this on a little bit and build up a little more interest in it. Strange stuff.
BOLDUAN: Do you see a benefit in that?
DEAN: No, not at all. I don't see anything, any wisdom in what he's doing in playing these kinds of games and not answering these questions. It just prolongs his problems. If it plays with his base, his base is more interested in entertainment than they are in governing.
BOLDUAN: Great to see you, John. Always great to have your perspective. Thanks so much.
Coming up for us, an interesting moment. We're going to hear how CNN accidentally, it appears, reached James Comey. Yes, the former FBI director on the phone. It is quite a story. You're going to hear what he told one of our CNN correspondents about this.
Plus, one high-profile senator says American leadership was better under President Obama. That's not from a Democrat. It's from Obama's former opponent, Republican John McCain. Hear why he said that.
And breaking news from the trial of Bill Cosby. His defense abruptly resting its case today after just an hour. Hear the only witness that they called. That's ahead.
[11:21:37] BOLDUAN: We're following breaking news. We just learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be testifying before a public, open hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow afternoon.
Jeff Sessions offering up to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee over the weekend, and the committee confirming just moments ago they will be taking his testimony in a public session tomorrow afternoon.
Let me bring in right now another Republican, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a member, of course, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, it's great to have you.
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM KINZINGER (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Yes, thanks. Good to be here.
BOLDUAN: So you had said you wanted to see Jeff Sessions testify in a public setting.
BOLDUAN: What's the big question for him?
KINZINGER: Well, I think we need to talk about the Russia meetings, the meetings with the ambassadors. I can tell you, I meet with a lot of ambassadors as a foreign affairs member. Sometimes I don't remember who all I've met with. Those are questions that need to be answered.
What exactly does he know, you know, about the discussions between Comey and President Trump? Basically, my big concern is the American people just really want answers. Right now, you have people that are stuck in a way of saying, every time new information comes out, let's assume it's all fake news, and there are some that immediately yell impeachment.
And I don't think we fix this whole conversation until we know everything. So I just want more information about everything to come out, and I hope this can shed some light on the questions the American people have.
BOLDUAN: What does it mean for the special prosecutor's investigation? So many of these -- I mean, James Comey testifying in public and now Jeff Sessions testifying in public. It doesn't get in the way of it, obviously.
BOLDUAN: Because he probably would have told James Comey not to. Do you think it impacts this?
KINZINGER: I don't think it does. I think there's so much hunger for information right now in the public that people are basically destroying themselves. There's so much fighting because everyone's come to preconceived conclusions about whether President Trump is innocent or guilty or anybody else. I think the more information to come out, the better. The
House and the Senate has a role to play in terms of determining this, but as long as it doesn't affect Director Mueller's investigation, that's the most important thing.
Because I think -- I don't care about 2018, I don't care about 2020 in this context -- we have to defend the institution of government and we need to know that all avenues of information were explored.
BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about the special prosecutor. We are seeing some Republican allies of the president come out and start to, forget targeting James Comey, targeting Bob Mueller. Newt Gingrich is one of them, and I read the tweet earlier, saying "The Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair."
This, of course -- Newt Gingrich actually applauded the appointment of Bob Mueller earlier, but he thinks it's time to rethink. Newt's not the only one. Do you think, Congressman, there's a problem of conflict of interest because of the long relationship that there is --
BOLDUAN: -- between Bob Mueller and James Comey?
KINZINGER: No. I think this idea that James Comey and Bob Mueller are going to get together and come up with a conspiracy to take down somebody or the president or whoever is, frankly, a bridge way too far. They can know -- in this business, we all know each other.
There's a lot of people that know Jim Comey and know Bob Mueller. It's just that government's a small business, so they're going to know each other, but from everything I understand about Director Mueller, this is a guy who wants honest answers, and so we need to get those honest answers.
I think to poison the well, whether it's Speaker Gingrich or anybody else, and say it's time to move past a special prosecutor, it's never going to be fair. My whole thing is, after this is said and done, I want everybody to say I may agree or disagree with the conclusion, but everything was figured out.
BOLDUAN: One of the president's attorneys also didn't rule out the possibility of the president firing Bob Mueller. What would you say if that happened?
[11:25:09]KINZINGER: Well, I don't expect that to happen. I actually don't know that the president could fire. I think that shouldn't happen, obviously. Let's let this develop itself. Let's get some answers here. I think it would be very ill-advised for the president to do it.
I actually don't expect that he would. But I think his allies need to quit trying to poison the well, because yes, it may get them on TV to say something, but at the same time, this is about the institution of democracy and defending it, that's what I'm concerned with.
BOLDUAN: Total different topic.
BOLDUAN: But because of your service to this country, I did want to ask you and get your reaction to the green-on-blue attack in Afghanistan. Three U.S. soldiers killed, another wounded. The vice president offered condolences over the weekend, but this comes at a very important time, a very important decision-making for this White House. What more do you want to hear from the president after this?
KINZINGER: Well, I think the president needs to make the case that this is a generational fight. People hate to say it, right? We like to say here's our plan to win in a year. The fact is, when you're fighting radicalism, you're fighting generational change, and it has to be -- like the cold war took 50 years for the next generation to reject communism.
That's what's going to happen in this fight, and it's going to be a long time coming, but the alternative, us leaving Afghanistan, Afghanistan being like it was pre-9/11, means saying you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.
BOLDUAN: But Congressman, would 5,000 more troops in Afghanistan have stopped this?
KINZINGER: I don't know. No, it wouldn't stop a green-on-blue. These are sad situations. I was in Afghanistan when the big one, I think 11 people were killed happened.
KINZINGER: We are having far less green-on-blues than we've had in the past. There was a point where we'd get a lot, but it's going to happen. You can't stop somebody from intending to do harm until they show the first step of those intention. You can't screen what's in somebody's heart. So sadly, this may happen again at some point, but actually, it's been pretty amazing how few there have been in comparison to how they have been in the past.
BOLDUAN: Thanks for being here.
KINZINGER: Any time.
BOLDUAN: Great to see you. Thank you so much.
KINZINGER: Anytime. Thank you. You bet.
BOLDUAN: Ahead for us, a CNN reporter calls the home of James Comey's father. It's a great story and starts exactly this way. Instead of getting the father, the reporter gets James Comey. Hear what happened and hear was the fired FBI director told CNN.
Plus, a full house now, the first lady and Barron Trump finally moving in with the president at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What does that mean? What changes will there be? I'm not just talking about interiors. I'm talking about in the president's behavior. We will see.
And any moment we are expecting new video to come in from inside the president's meeting with his cabinet, and the man on the left is where all eyes are today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Of course, in recent weeks, according to reporting, offered to resign over tensions with President Trump, now set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow. Let's see what comes out of that meeting. We'll be right back.